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by Bradford Nordeen
September 7, 2011 6:12 AM
9 Comments
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George Kuchar, Filmmaker and Provocateur Who Inspired John Waters, Dead at 69

George Kuchar. Photo: Michael Robinson Fleming.

indieWIRE has just learned of the passing late last night of George Kuchar, whose body of film and video work inspired many filmmakers, many of them his students and not the least of which is John Waters. He is survived by his twin brother, Mike, with whom he resided in San Francisco.

Bradford Nordeen, the curator of New York's Dirty Looks queer screening series (which recently screened three of the Kuchars' films on the brothers' 69th birthday) has kindly shared his words about George to indieWIRE.

George Kuchar was a man of many careers. He began making 8mm films at the age of twelve, collaborations with his twin brother, Mike, on a camera gifted from their parents. These early works are sensational remakes of the movies that played in their local Bronx theaters. Even in their adolescence, the twins showed an alarming understanding of cinematic conventions, with special respect paid to woman’s pictures (George’s fave) and swords and sandals epics (Mike’s). Fusing toilet humor with wrenching pathos, these early films were profoundly camp and made a huge impact on a young John Waters. “The Kuchar borthers,” Waters would later explain in the introduction to George and Mike’s illustrated memoirs, "Reflections in a Cinematic Cesspool," “gave me the self confidence to believe in my own tawdry vision.” Throughout his early career, George worked by day in commercial arts, an industry he described as “that Midtown Manhattan world of angst and ulcers.”

By the mid-sixties, however, the Kuchars were discovered by the burgeoning Underground Film movement and heralded by Jonas Mekas in his Village Voice column and in the magazine Film Culture. In the latter publication, George’s writings appeared alongside prominent figures like Andrew Sarris, Jack Smith and Gregory Markopoulos. After accepting an invitation to teach a summer course at San Francisco Art Institute in the early 1970s, George met Curt McDowell, a student-then-lover, who campaigned to secure a permanent faculty position for George, where he would teach for the remainder of his life. The duo collaborated on many films, including George’s "The Devil’s Cleavage" and McDowell’s experimental/horror/porno, "Thundercrack!," where George also stars - opposite his character's love interest, a gorilla.

George changed with the times, influencing a whole new generation when he embraced consumer grade video. He humorously described himself as “a traitor to his medium [film],” but George galvanized the video form with his signature gusto, yielding dozens of video diaries (most renowned were "The Weather Diaries," in which George documented seasonal – as well as emotional – storms in Oklahoma). Also a skilled visual artist, George worked alongside leading graphic artists like Art Spiegelman and Bill Griffith, exhibiting internationally. Recent venues included [ 2 nd floor projects ] in San Francisco, Mulherin + Pollard in New York and ADA Gallery in Virginia.

George inspired four decades of SFAI graduates, who played cast and crew to a yearly creature feature course, making movies like "The Fury of Frau Frankenstein" and "Jewel of Jeopardy." George was cherished, by his SFAI students and international audiences alike, for his wild humor, exuberant spirit and intuitive production ethic; if something didn’t work in a “picture” (as George referred to all his works), he merely changed the story to suit the circumstance. This approach led to his magnum opus, "Hold Me While I’m Naked," 1966 an early solo venture which became a film about isolation and filmmaking when regular actress Donna Kerness abandoned the project. The result was named one of the 100 best films of the 20th Century by the Village Voice. Truly one of the most visionary artists of his time, George’s impact on six decades of film, visual art and popular culture is immeasurable.

9 Comments

  • bob hawk | September 8, 2011 8:24 AMReply

    Dearest George: You made us happy when skies were grey. You were our sunshine -- even when there weren't no sun up in the sky. You are loved -- and always will be. Thanks for the memories . . .

  • J. S. Taylor | September 8, 2011 6:28 AMReply

    George the artist......and George the sex object. Both magical....both magnetic. Don't look for a replacement......they doesn't exist.

  • Robert | September 8, 2011 6:28 AMReply

    Darn. I went to a screening of "Secrets of the Shadow World" (plus Q&A with Mr. Kuchar) at Lincoln Center with John Keel and another friend, Sheldon Haas. They've all died in the past few years.

    John Keel and George Kuchar were in an experimental film club using 8 mm sound cameras when they were new. At the same time hundreds of miles away at another college, John Strathman and David Lindelof (who also became my friend much later, and who also have died) were doing similarly, making "Whisper of Evil". That connects only with the relative trivia (not among friends, of course) that Brian Lamb appeared in the later movie and David's son Damon is now big as a screen writer.

  • Nick K. | September 8, 2011 1:59 AMReply

    Just last Friday I sat with George in his tiny hospice room while he screened his last Weather Diary for me and another former student. After viewing his work for over 20 years, he could still make me laugh and blush simultaneously. I hope he knew what a powerful influence he was for so many of us, whether or not our hands ever touched a camera. I remember once when a student was actually upset by one of his characters and accused him of being sexist. George dismissed him immediately with "I paint everybody with the same brush." Yes he did, but nobody will ever paint like him again.

  • Jennifer Montgomery | September 8, 2011 1:53 AMReply

    Of the few really valuable coping strategies I have learned in this life, the best ones came from George Kuchar, the man and his pictures. I will miss him but I can still hear his voice.
    Jennifer Montgomery

  • Dan ireland | September 7, 2011 10:37 AMReply

    I had the honor of both knowing George and presenting his work at The Seattle International Film Festival over the years. Whether he was working with collaborator(s) Curt McDowell, or brother Mike, or on his own, George was a constant source of inspiration for all that knew him, or had the pleasure of viewing his unique and amazing work. His brilliant wit, his incisive sense of eliciting a great performance no matter whom he was directing, his astute eye, and moreover, his poetry with film itself, made him one of the most original talents in our country. His loss is profoundly felt by all the great filmmakers that are continually inspired by his original (and wonderful) voice. His legacy speaks for itself, and if you consider yourself a serious filmmaker, and you haven't yet discovered the magic of George Kuchar, then you are indeed in for a treat. RIP dear George, you'll live on forever with your beautiful legacy of films. Lucky us.

  • Valerie Soe | September 7, 2011 10:23 AMReply

    Thanks for the great obit--George will be terribly missed.

  • Ben Tramer | September 7, 2011 8:18 AMReply

    Jordan Belson, also, last night. Unbelievable.

  • Abina Manning | September 7, 2011 6:51 AMReply

    We will miss you so much George.